Secret Origins: My Comics Obsession, and What I Still Have to Learn
I’m a geek blogger (surprise!). As such I’m steeped in pop culture every day, and among my friends I am a go-to authority on the subject. In certain areas, this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s a lot of fun, and entirely the point of putting myself in the blogging business. In others though, and especially now that comic books are being thrust ever further into the main stream, I sometimes feel completely lost.
Here’s the thing: I only started reading comics about 3 years ago. Until that point I had barely looked at a comic book. I’d had a few issues of Spiderman comics I picked up at a thrift shop once when I was 12 because I liked the cartoon, I’d read a handful of Betty & Veronica Double Digests I’d convinced my mom to buy me at the grocery store, I’d even seen a lot of comic book movies (virtually every one that had come out since Burton’s Batman), and had dressed up as Batgirl one year for Halloween, but I couldn’t have told you much about the characters. Until I was 23, I’d never set foot in a comic book store (the first time I did was completely overwhelming), I had no interest in Superman (he was boring to me), and I’d never even heard of the Birds of Prey.
That all changed pretty quickly in my last semester of college. I’d recently, and for some unknown reason, gotten really into Smallville. It had just ended, and I marathoned all 10 seasons in a month (twice). Perhaps because I wasn’t a big fan of Superman going in, and had nothing to compare it to, I really loved that show despite what I can now criticize. Plus, Chloe Sullivan is my spirit animal. That sudden infusion of DC Comics mythology, plus a fair amount of Googling, made me confident enough to engage classmates in a discussion, which lead to one of my classmates virtually force feeding me the New 52 Wonder Woman (which had just started publishing), and Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey. I think it’s safe to say that the latter changed my life.
Maybe it’s safer to say that it awakened a monster.
From that point forward I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and sometimes getting my hands on a lot more than I could read. I devoured all of Simone’s Birds of Prey, then all of Birds of Prey altogether, then New 52 Batgirl, Judd Winnick’s Green Arrow/Black Canary, Final Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and handfuls of other books. I spent the better part of two years watching, reading, Googling, everything I could to understand the intricacies of the DC Comics universe. Then I started to stall out.
I know a lot about DC Comics characters and places and major storylines, but I started to feel overwhelmed with the shear amount there was to consume. I didn’t know where to start — I still don’t — when trying to get to know new characters, and I amassed a great deal of comics I was never going to read, just because they fascinated me. I was a kid in a candy store, and I was starting to get a stomach ache.
And then there is the issue of all the other publishers, all the amazing books out there to discover, and all the books people expect someone in my position (a geek blogger who writes an awful lot about comics — and who has a Green Lantern tattoo) to know, understand, and be able to reference easily. For someone who tends to shut down when feeling overwhelmed, I’ve definitely started to buckle under all the weight.
As a subculture, we’re pretty notorious for marginalizing and alienating people who are new to our obsessions. For that reason, I’m generally pretty quiet about the things to which I am oblivious, and do my best to tip-toe around those topics in conversation. I assimilate as much information as I can before attempting to speak with any authority on anything, because geeks are also very good at sniffing out impostors, but nothing really compares to really understanding the material.
It’s put me in a personal internal struggle for a long time now, and I think I’m finally coming to terms with my shame, and letting it go. For one, I’m trying not to worry so much about being judged for what I have and haven’t consumed. For another, I’m trying to educate myself on as many of these things as possible by identifying the gaps in my knowledge and filling them in as best I can, without stressing about it too much.
A friend of mine finally got me to start reading Marvel comics by lending me Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Others have helped me identify Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Nova, and Hawkeye as my next forays into the Marvel universe. I’ve had random strangers recommend Preacher, tv shows have recommended Y the Last Man, and the internet told me I needed to read Sandman. I haven’t read these yet, but I’m working on it. I’m telling myself to read one TPB of my choosing each month, and enjoy the experience. If I don’t like an acclaimed series, then I don’t like an acclaimed series. It’s not the end of the world, and anyone who thinks it is can GTFO.
So, that’s my comic book story. What’s yours? Is there a book that changed your perception of comics? A writer who has given you a particularly meaningful comics experience? Let me know in the comments, via e-mail, or on Twitter. I’d love to hear them, and if you’ve got a book you think I should read, I’d love your recommendations too. Just don’t freak out if it takes me a while. I’ve got a bit of a backlog.